On Wednesday, I attended a conference put on by the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative, an extraordinary non-profit organization dedicated to fostering inclusive leadership. It was filled with panels and people who are working diligently to help organizations of all sizes do a better job encouraging people to be fully human at work. The entire day gave me hope.
The last session was a series of interactive theater pieces put on by the diversity training organization, DeValk Associates. As an introvert, I typically dread things like this, but it turned out to be compelling in ways I didn’t expect.
The actors ticked through scenarios about race and power in the corporate workplace, many of which were disturbingly familiar. Here’s the one that hit a nerve: A white mother shows up to work worried about how her two mixed-race kids were going to respond to a racial violence incident in the television news. Her white male supervisor woodenly offers a few of words of comfort, then whiffed the attempt. Everyone squirmed. The actor playing the supervisor later revealed in a “thought bubble” aside to the audience that he feared conversations like this because “he’d made some mistakes talking about this stuff in the past.” The whole thing felt like a minefield to him. A lively conversation ensued.
But another performer on stage, an Asian woman who had artfully played a more empathetic colleague, told the audience that she had felt hurt that her ability to relate to the white mother’s fear had gone unnoticed by us. She shared that as an Asian woman, she frequently felt overlooked on the subject of race and that her real experiences of discrimination, though different from those of black people, were routinely dismissed. She felt invisible, a lot. “I’m a person of color, too,” she said while wiping away tears.
It took a moment for the crowd to absorb that this was not part of the act and that the performance had become so real to her, that it felt like her actual life. Want to get the attention of a room full of people who have dedicated their lives to inclusion? Tell them you feel left out. It took courage for her to share those feelings and humility to take them in.
Now, we all wear masks at work. And we all have a constant inner dialog running on how we’re feeling about how we’re being perceived. But the performances - including her real tears - were powerful reminders that inclusive leadership requires turning that inner dialog into real world conversations that can bring people closer together.
These conversations may be more art than science, but there’s plenty of new science that promises to help. Vox has published a great piece highlighting some of the best research on how to talk about race or gender issues, and I highly recommend it. (Hint: Calling people racists doesn’t work.)
But mastering the skill of difficult conversations, as both a speaker and listener, requires patience, openness, forgiveness, resilience, and courage. And lots of time. I wish each and every one of you all of that and more.
Twitter is banning “alt-right” accounts. What could go wrong?
Twitter has done a poor job managing hate speech and outright abuse on the platform, this we know. But is banning offensive accounts the best solution? Fortune’s Matthew Ingram argues persuasively that the unintended consequences could be profound. First, by ennobling the offenders via digital martyrdom, and second, by becoming an imperfect arbiter of unpopular speech. “Do we really want Twitter to be the one that decides what constitutes appropriate speech, and who is allowed to exercise it?”
A researcher has successfully programmed Twitter bots to fight racism
Researcher Kevin Munger goes into great detail on how he used twitter bots – automated accounts that appear to be from real people – to identify racist speech and then tweet a friendly, “Hey man, just remember that there are real people who are hurt when you harass them with that kind of language." There were four bots, two white men, two black men, one with 500 followers and one with just two. Note to high-status white men: The tweets from the white bot with the higher number of followers did the best at curbing racist behavior.
How to feel better about a Trump presidency
Opinion writer Nick Kristoff offers a 12-step program for people who are unhappy with the election of Donald Trump. It's a way to stop dwelling on fear and take action on the issues you care about. “I will try to do small things in my own life, recognizing that they are inadequate but at least a start,” he says. Pledging support for marginalized groups is good, comparing anybody to Hitler is bad.
Open letter to Trump: Don’t abandon climate change
Three hundred and sixty five American companies including Starbucks, Nike, and Levi Strauss have penned an open letter to the president-elect asking him not to abandon the Paris climate deal, and expressing their deep commitment to combating climate change. Their take: To abandon a low-carbon future puts jobs and the economy at risk. Here’s another one to consider –climate change will disproportionately impact poor populations, mostly of color, around the world.
What not to say in work emails
Madame Noire is a popular site for young women of color, but this handy guide on the grating microaggressions that show up in work communications and annoy co-workers is a handy reminder for anyone. But the best thing about the slideshow are the decidedly non-stock photos they use to illustrate their points. In an inclusive workplace, everyone gets to be irritating.
A real world campaign to fight racism in Germany
Isaiah Lopaz is a college-educated writer and artist living in Germany. He is American. He is black. He is frequently mistaken for a drug dealer. He is often asked where he’s from in Africa. He’s been told that he has no culture because he comes from slaves. And now, he’s had it. He’s created a living art project, wearing the racist things he’s heard on t-shirts around Berlin.
The Woke Leader
Make training your brain a priority
Pasteur Institute biochemist turned Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard offers a warm, funny and accessible call to meditative action: Stillness trains your brain to be present, which is an essential element to well-being. And well-being helps eliminate many of conflicting states of existence – suffering, frustration, and longing - helping to achieve “A state that actually pervades and underlies all emotional states, and all the joys and sorrows that can come one's way.”
A closeted, queer Latina finds community online
Ludmila Leiva has religious, traditionalist parents, and has gotten used to “compartmentalizing” her identity in order to stay connected to them. But her fears of life in Trump’s America have exacerbated the distance she feels from her family. In a poignant essay, she talks about the digital community that provides much-needed support. “[T]hese closed spaces are crafted with safety in mind, in order to foster empathy and understanding, and utilize strict community guidelines to ensure respect and safety for all - something that is not always guaranteed out in the real world.”
A missing Frida Kahlo painting has been found
Kahlo was only 22 when she started but never finished Niña Con Collar (Girl with Necklace) which was recently rediscovered in a California home. It's gorgeous and filled with the early promise of the genius to come. It will be auctioned off next week at Sotheby’s in New York; expect lots of pun fun with the “eyebrow-raising price” it is expected to fetch.